Gregor Samsa: Rest
Own Records

Listeners familiar with Kafka's work can probably recite The Metamorphosis's arresting opening line—“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”—from memory. The multi-limbed band of the same name (a dozen instrumentalists and vocalists residing in NY, Chicago, Boston, and Richmond contribute to the project) sketches dreams of considerable less upsetting character on its third full-length album Rest; in fact, its nine pieces are more likely to lull one into peaceful slumber rather than torment one with nightmares. The group's lyrical odes are tailor-made for those whose taste runs towards Rachel's and Sigur Rós. Think gorgeous, often funereal compositions featuring hushed vocals, graceful piano melodies, and arrangements adorned with dashes of violin, cello, celesta, clarinet, and vibraphone and you're on the right track.

The sultry whisper of female voices graces the meditation “The Adolescent” which proves even more affecting during the reflective piano spotlight that emerges in the song's second half. With the exception of “First Mile, Last Mile” which briefly stokes some fierce guitar heat, Rest exudes a requiem-like feel with death hovering over the album (“Jeroen Van Aken” even includes the lament “It seems the devil's got a grip on me”). Echoes of other artists emerge: the piano clusters that introduce “Ain Leuh” could pass for a Philip Glass homage (in fact the piano heard on the album is a rare Bösendorfer previously owned by Glass) while the lapping keyboards that animate “Abutting, Dismantling” suggest that John Adams may have formed part of Gregor Samsa's listening diet. The sparse piano and vocal balladry that opens “Jeroen Van Aken” suggests kinship between Gregor Samsa and Sigur Rós, and a Theremin-like warble and Julee Cruise-styled female vocal float overtop vibraphone gleam in the lovely dirge “Rendered Yards.” Despite such overtones, Rest doesn't feel overly derivative so much as simply evocative with its material inhabiting territory shared with others. From its gamelan-flavoured opener (“The Adolescent”) to beatific lullaby closer (“Du Meine Leise”), Rest's poised set-pieces impress with graceful, classically-tinged restraint.

May 2008